A VPN or Virtual Private Network as it is technically referred to is a service which allows you to access the internet via an encrypted, third-party server. The connection established is via a so-called ‘tunnel’ which directly connects your tablet, computer or phone to what you want to access like websites. There are a number of reasons why you may want to use a VPN beyond just hackers trying to breach your security.
VPNs allow you to hide your internet activity from the service provider itself. So, if you’re using Bell Canada for instance which is your ISP, they won’t be able to see what you’re accessing. Which means that you’re able to effectively bypass censorship too. It also allows you to geo-spoof your IP address so that websites don’t know where you’re located. Plus, if you access public wifi networks it can help protect you from those trying to eavesdrop or gain control of your device.
So which VPN service is the best?
There are dozens of VPN services which typically charge anywhere from $5 to $15 a month. While they may all boast of being the best only a few can be trusted to deliver high speeds, a secure connection, and most of all easy to use software.
In our experience, you may want to opt for a VPN service that’s reliable and cheap. Below we list three services that are worth considering.
Toronto based TunnelBear offers a free VPN service which is limited to just 500MB of data each month. Though you can get more by paying or tweeting which can raise the limit to 1 GB a month. The company to its credit unlike other services does not serve up ads to make money but instead relies on you spreading the word. However, there are a few features that TunnelBear has limited to their paid accounts like choosing to use servers in India or Australia.
The good news is that using TunnelBear is not expensive with their Giant plan costing just $9.98 a month or you can pick up the annual Grizzly plan for $59.88 annually. We were impressed by the service’s free and paid packages regarding the feature set and security. Interestingly, in addition to all regular forms of electronic payment, you can also pay for the service with Bitcoin!
Features and Performance
TunnelBear offers up servers in 20 locations across the world including Canada, Australia, France, Brazil, Hong Kong, Germany, Mexico, Ireland, the Netherlands, Singapore, Norway, the UK, America, Spain, and Sweden, etc. Thought they have left out places like the Middle East, Africa, Turkey and Russia all of which are known for their repressive internet policies.
TunnelBear claims that theirs is a zero-log service, so none of your online activities are stored which assures anonymity. However, the service blocks P2P file sharing or the use of BitTorrent software.
TunnelBear’s software for Android, iOS, Mac and Windows devices is easy to use for the most part. You can also use their Opera and Google Chrome plug-ins. Running the plugin ensures that only your browser’s data is sent through the service while other apps operate without protection. Making it a versatile VPN service worth considering.
When you want to use a free VPN service, there are a couple of compromises that need to be made in the way of data transfer limits, speeds and a limited choice of locations. However, WindScribe boasts of doing things differently by offers a whopping 10 GB a month if you register. Unregistered users get 2GB, though registration is free and only requires your email address. There is also a paid Pro version with all the bells and whistles for just $9 a month. The entire year earns you a discount bringing the price down to $7.50 a month. There is also a commercial plan which offers unlimited connections.
The compromise that free users will have to make is the fact that they only have access to eight countries and you can just use one connection which will be fine for most people. WindScribe’s free plan also throws in a few extras like P2P support, and an ad-blocking add-on for your browser.
Now even though Windscribe has clients for iOS, Mac, and Windows, there isn’t one for Android. Though an Android device can be manually configured. Plus, there are separate Chrome, Opera and Firefox extensions which you can install.
Privacy and data collection
Windscribe makes it very clear that they do collect some data like your last visit and the amount of bandwidth used. They also record the user’s IP address which should tell them where a person is based. But all VPNs collect that data whether they reveal it or not.
Speed and performance
The Windscribe client is small and easy to use. The service is good all things considered though it is not blazing fast like some other services. Though it all depends on the server, you choose, and in this case, strangely the nearest server may not always be the best one for some reason. So, you might have to hop through a few servers before you settle on the fastest one at that time.
Toronto based SurfEasy was recently acquired by Opera, and that’s how the browser’s free VPN functionality is powered by the service. Though the service also has apps for iOS and Android devices. SurfEasy is free to use, but they also have a paid service which starts out at $48 for the Total package and $88 for Ultra annually. Also, their service is separate from what Opera offers for free to its users.
Usability and functionality
We found that the SurfEasy Windows app kind of resided in the system tray all the time. So, each time you want to use it, just right click and enable it. To change the VPN’s location just click on the ‘flag’ icon and choose any location from the list. If you are Ultra user, there are 28 countries from which to choose. It’s kind of frustrating that the app cannot be moved away from the already cluttered system tray.
One of the top features of the service is the fact that it works with Netflix very reliably. Most users outside of America will have no problem accessing the American server and subsequent America only websites. If P2P services like BitTorrent is your thing, then those are only available to Ultra package users.
Speed and performance
SurfEasy is one of the fastest VPN services on the market today. The max drop we experienced was 55% of the base speed, that is a very tiny drop compared to others that can go down to around 34%. However, your experience will vary because its dependent on your device, ISP, and connection quality. So, it’s probably worth considering by anyone who wants to use a zippy VPN service without breaking the bank.
Almost all VPN services above are excellent, but because the services are based in Canada, they are governed by “US data retention laws” which apparently applies to US services too. So, using them will not make you 100% anonymous online. If anonymity is what you seek, then try services based outside of North America like NordVPN that’s based in Panama or Hong Kong based PureVPN.